Archers, Bulldogs eye stronger season next yearBy Jasmine W. Payo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—As Ateneo and University of Santo Tomas gear up for the UAAP championship round, the two teams they dispatched in the semifinals have quickly turned their attention to next season.
National University and La Salle—the two squads that defied the odds in the thrilling race to the Final Four—expect to turn into solid contenders as both return with virtually intact lineups in next year’s men’s basketball tourney.
“Our preparation for Season 76 starts tomorrow,” said coach Gee Abanilla after the Green Archers nearly pulled off an upset over four-time champion and fierce rival Ateneo in the semifinals, 66-63, last Saturday.
“I just feel we’ll have a better season next year. We have an intact lineup, but of course, we still have to see the other talents in the market. We have some players already in our radar.”
The Bulldogs, who reached the Final Four for the first time in 11 years, also gave a tough fight before the Tigers held on to a 63-57 win in their own semifinal duel.
“I told the team to always remember that before you succeed, you have to fail first,” said NU coach Eric Altamirano. “We want to use this loss as motivation to move forward and prepare for next year. I believe that next year we’ll be able to handle it better.”
Both the Bulldogs and the Archers cite “immaturity” and “lack of experience” as reasons for their end game meltdown in the semifinals even if both squads were powered by two of the league’s best players.
NU leaned on Ray Parks, who bagged his second straight MVP in just as many years in the league, while La Salle had Rookie of the Year Jeron Teng bringing life back to the team that missed last year’s Final Four.
“Even if we got to the Final Four, we had to strive and aim for something higher,” said Abanilla. “Then again, nothing to be ashamed of. We gave Ateneo a good fight and we almost had that game.”
NU clinched the No. 3 spot due to a superior quotient after finishing tied with La Salle and Far Eastern University at the end of the eliminations at 9-5. La Salle nailed the last semifinal berth after upsetting FEU in the playoffs.
“We made it to the Final Four and I’m proud of my teammates definitely,” said Parks. “Hopefully next year we’ll be better.”
The Blue Eagles, who are vying for a fifth straight crown, and the Tigers kick off their best-of-three title clash at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mall of Asia Arena.
Unlike in the 2006 Finals, where the underdog Tigers won over the then No. 1 Eagles, odds are almost even for the two teams that split their elimination tussles by an average of 1.5 points.
UST center Karim Abdul will suit up in Game 1 as his second unsportsmanlike foul in the semis was deemed “not meant to hurt” by league officials.
Meanwhile, UST and La Salle secured the first two Final Four slots yesterday in the table tennis tournament at Blue Eagle Gym.
UST trounced Adamson and UE via 3-0 scores while La Salle also posted a 3-0 triumph over Ateneo and Adamson.